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Sunday, November 27, 2022

Twitter is cigarettes – The Reformed Broker

A lot of reporters and public intellectuals were writing their obituaries for Twitter this weekend. First, we saw the revolt of the Blue Checkmarks. Then, the first inklings of an advertiser exodus. The timing of all this – on the eve of a midterm election that will determine whether or not Americans actually care about democracy – could not have been more ominous.

Some verified Twitter users don’t like the idea that they will actually have to pay something in exchange for the 90 hours a week of entertainment and virtue signaling opportunities they derive from the platform. Some don’t like the fact that regular people will be able to get verified without even having their own column for The Atlantic or content management system access at HuffPo. When you set a price tag for the blue checkmark at eight dollars, a lot of people who think they earned that blue check by being wonderful and gifted are going to be mighty insulted. There is even talk about how the verification system will grant more exposure for paid users than for unpaid users, which would serve to hollow out the user base of the platform unto the point where it’s just reporters and venture capitalists flaming each other in an empty stadium, tumbleweeds rolling across the parking lot.

And on a parallel track there is also the advertising thing. It turns out that Fortune 500 brands are not eager to have their corporate logos bobbing along a stream of racial slurs, swastikas and stepfather pornography. Who knew? The laying off of half of Twitter’s staff and resignations of most of its management team do not exactly inspire confidence against a backdrop of Kanye West’s antisemitic meltdown and the inevitable return of Donald Trump. Many major advertisers will not commit their budget for 2023 until they have confidence that the platform won’t devolve into a giant version of 4Chan.

They’re getting conflicting messages out of the Elon Musk regime – the podcast pals who are helping with the transition are saying all of the right things about stewardship and oversight. Then Musk himself tweets out a conspiracy theory about the Speaker of the House’s 80 year-old husband being attacked with a hammer by his gay lover. On the first day.

So all the apocalyptic talk about the death of Twitter is understandable given the current situation.

But it’s all wrong.

Twitter will be fine.

It’s not going anywhere. No matter how nasty the platform gets, or how racially charged the discussions become, or how performatively offended the power users are, it won’t matter.

Because Twitter is cigarettes.

You will hear people planning their exits from the site. Usually in the form of a tweet. That’s just confirmation that they cannot and will not ever exit. At least not permanently. I don’t doubt that the desire to leave is there. It’s just that I also understand the reality of exiting better than most.

Allow me to help out here…

I’m done with Twitter, deleting my account: 

No you’re not. You might take yourself offline, but your username will still be waiting for you upon your return. This is in the back of your mind as you “delete” yourself. You are probably deleting the app from your iPhone too. Within 24 hours you will be logging in from Safari or Chrome browser to see if anyone noticed you left. “What if I miss an important DM?” is going to be the cover story you’ll use to justify peeking. Derek Landy said “The lies we tell other people are nothing to the lies we tell ourselves.” Stop lying.

I mean it, I am so mad! Elon is going to rip this country apart! 

Almost nobody quits for good and the more huffy your exit, the sooner you’ll be coming back. That’s why you’re so huffy in the first place – because you hate how much you need this stupid site and all the people on it. Huff and puff all your want, but there’s an iron rule about what happens upon your return: Nobody comes back small. You’re coming back with a vengeance. Elon is not the problem. The problem is that human beings were not meant to interact with hundreds of millions of other human beings from around the world each day. It’s unnatural and can only lead to terrible, dangerous outcomes for the world. As recently as a hundred years ago, the typical human on earth only knew and interacted with a few dozen people. It was nearly impossible for a demagogue to amass much of a following absent the backing of an army or the ownership of a national press corps. Now it can happen on a daily basis and no one even needs to leave the house. As a species, we’re not able to resist. We haven’t had access to the technology long enough to have built up an immunity to the spread of disinformation on an industrial scale. We haven’t evolved the emotional resistance to the temptation to join an online mob because being part of the in-group has been hardwired into our DNA over a million years. It’s why our ancestors lived long enough to pass along their genes – they joined the group and threw stones at the people who didn’t. The stoned-to-death apes didn’t pass along anything. Current humanity is the product of centuries of mob mentality. Twitter harnesses this phenomenon and supercharges it to create “engagement.”

OK, I’m staying, but only because democracy dies in darkness and leaving is exactly what these fascists want us to do. So I’m doing my part and staying right here!

Lady, it’s nicotine. You’re addicted. You think in tweet format. Oh I should tweet that! Your constant usage of the platform has actually rearranged the way your whole train of thought works. Some days the interactions you have on the app are the only validation you’re going to get. I exist! I matter! People think about me! You know you can’t live without that for long. It matters more to you than who owns it or who profits from it. You would stay on Twitter if Kim Jong-Un was appointed community manager. What are your options? Talk to the cat? The cat can’t retweet you.

I don’t need Twitter, but all my friends are here, so, it’s like the path of least resistance or whatever is to just, like, stay.

You have no friends here. Everyone on Twitter hates everyone else. But this casual, incidental hatred is nothing compared to the degree to which they hate themselves. It’s fine. Everyone off of Twitter hates everyone too. It’s not accidental that the most viral content is people insulting, dunking on or shaming others. Just admit that’s what you’re doing there. Your friends are people who would come rescue you on the side of the road at 3 am if your car broke down in the rain and no one was there to post pictures of it happening. How many people you got in your life like that? Four? Two? One? Nobody? The 646 people who follow you on Twitter are fine so long as you don’t have too much success and you are sure to keep favoriting all of their bullshit each day. Watch what happens when you start succeeding in life. Watch what happens when you stop reciprocating. Your “friends” my ass.

I might switch to Instagram or TikTok. 

No you won’t because the thing that made you a hit on Twitter doesn’t translate to IG or TikTok. You’re witty and sharp and well-informed and opinionated, that’s how you built a following on Twitter. But you’re also ugly and can’t dance, so you’re not going to replicate your success here in either of those places. Instagram is a fashion show. TikTok is a talent show. You are not fashionable and your talent is cleverly hurting other people’s feelings. Maybe stay put. You’re in the right place.

I’m really influential so the right thing to do is keep tweeting. 

Okay but calm down. You’re a micro-influencer at best. Perhaps a nano-influencer. I know people who refer to themselves as influencers and are billed that way in their profiles or at industry events. Then you look at the engagement on their tweets. 1 RT, 3 likes. No RTs, 1 like. It’s embarrassing. And the worst part is they will keep that tweet up there. If only the right person were to come along and discover it! You only have real influence if you can completely disappear from social media and people are still interested to hear what you have to say. Think Jay-Z, George Clooney, Warren Buffett, Denzel Washington, Julia Roberts – all of the people that you would actually look up to and want to be like. Now think about the millions of non-famous happy people who aren’t tweeting their heads off all day. As for prolifically tweeting celebrities, they are absolutely insufferable. If you see a famous person eating in a restaurant, it’s a little bit of a thrill. You text your friends “Guess who was at 4 Charles last night!?!? That’s right! Mario Lopez! You should have seen his dimples!” Now imagine how excited you’d get if you started seeing Mario Lopez everywhere you went, seven days a week. “Goddamn it this f***ing AC Slater guy is in front of me at Starbucks again. Why does he have to touch and spin around every single cup on the counter to find his order?” The magic wears off real quick. If you’re in people’s faces all day with all of your opinions, whatever influence you think you have is gradually melting away like an ice cube in the sun. And then you’re just another puddle. No one is excited or surprised to hear from you or see you. You’re “this guy again? Shut up already.” Imagine if Serena Williams woke up every morning and started talking shit to other tennis players on the internet and kept going til she went to sleep each night. As insane as that sounds, there are literal billionaires doing that on finance twitter, making nine enemies for life for every one admirer. I don’t know if it’s the narcissism or the sociopathy that drives them to keep going, but it’s truly incredible to behold. Or to ignore completely for your own sanity, as I have chosen to do.

I barely post on Twitter anyway, I don’t care. 

The person who says this spends more time scrolling the feed than they do talking to their own children. They are the most addicted. This is the worst kind of Twitter participant – risking nothing, contributing zero, publicly feigning apathy while privately obsessing over conversations they don’t even have the guts to barge into. Sure you don’t care. Let’s see your screen time stats. You’re never leaving either, even though we don’t even know you’re there.

I don’t care who owns it, I need it to get the news. 

Dude, stop lying to yourself already. You can get the news from Google. From New York Times. From Fox. From CNBC. From Yahoo. From the Post. From the other Post. Anyway you want to get it. Alerts. Texts. Emails. Apps. Aggregation. Feed. Search. Subscription. You know this. Everyone knows this. But I know what you really need. You don’t need headlines, you need to subtweet other people who are happier than you are. Try doing that with a Wall Street Journal subscription. Doesn’t work. In the year of our lord 2022, “the news” is literally in the air. It’s hitting your phone’s home screen. It’s hitting your Apple Watch. It’s scrolling across the front of your treadmill. It’s inescapable. But the opportunity to turn your own insecurities outward on someone else for a momentary burst of satisfaction? That’s the thing you can’t go without. That’s the real need. All that bitterness and frustration has to have somewhere to go. Can’t hold it all in, all the time. You can tell whose life is going well and whose isn’t based on how ugly and obnoxious they are to others on the internet. You ever seen a successful, satisfied person wake up in the morning in search of a stranger to harass? Never happens offline, on earth. Always happens online, every minute of every day. What does that have to do with “the news”? You’re not on Twitter for the news, you’re on Twitter for the lack of consequences for anonymously insulting others as a coping mechanism. Or because you enjoy watching other people insult each other. It’s the closest thing we have to gladiator games in the modern era. And who doesn’t like watching a good old fashioned fight to the death?

I use it to keep up with politics and sports.

You mean you use it to read the most extreme and therefore social media-successful political messages coming from the worst element within your particular party? You mean you use it to trash a twenty-year-old professional athlete because he cost you nineteen dollars on Fanduel last night or made you lose Week Seven in the fantasy football league with your old fraternity brothers?

I can stop anytime. 

No you can’t. You can announce that you’re stopping. You’re not stopping. Because you don’t have anything that can replace it. That’s the key to quitting. Easier said than done.

Okay, I won’t quit but I won’t say anything on there ever again. 

Have a few drinks, let’s see. It’s an election night. Open a bottle of reposado. Let nature do the rest.

***

So what happens now?

Musk will get bored with running it and start appointing a new slate of empty suits who will inevitably lean back toward the safe and the acceptable in their effort to satisfy the thing he wants them to prioritize more than free speech – don’t let this cost me any more money. Common sense will win out, the racists will be sufficiently muffled, muted and moved off platform so that Marvel can comfortably buy a few hundred million impressions for The Eternals 2 or Ant Man 5 or whatever without having to hesitate. Before you know it, the platform will revert back to what it always has been – a real-time message board haphazardly half-organized by people who don’t even use the product, earning practically no profit while keeping the world on the brink of civilization’s end. The British Historian Arnold Toynbee, upon concluding his twelve-volume “A Study of History” after three decades of research, concluded that “Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder.”

It’s not the challenges of the day that threaten us, it is the way we have chosen to respond to those challenges – in-fighting as opposed to cooperation. Twitter is the greatest enabler of in-fighting ever devised in the history of humanity. The more argumentative and strident your behavior, the higher and more sustained the rewards are. Stature. Popularity. Speaking engagements. Cult following. We’ve perfected the means of our own destruction, 380 characters at a time. A majority of American voters no longer see the voters of the opposing party as merely wrong. They are now convinced that those who disagree with them are actually the enemy. I wouldn’t blame Twitter exclusively. The 24-hour cable news cycle that began thirty years ago probably got the ball rolling and Facebook has done as much damage to a certain demographic’s ability to think clearly as anything else. The news media’s business model shift from local to national, from subscriptions to clicks, played an important role as well. But Twitter fuel-injects all of these pre-existing forces and makes them even more pronounced.

The platform was built that way.

And when it finally does fulfill its destiny as the metaphorical warehouse filled with crates of unstable dynamite…when it finally receives that fateful lit match it’s been waiting for since the very beginning, you’ll be there. Front and center.

You’re never leaving. No one else is either.

And, like it or not, Elon is going to find a way to make money from it.

***

Image

Oh no, Stephen Weiss has deleted his Twitter account! Gotta be at least the third or fourth time since I’ve met him. It’s a cycle.

Talking about the stocks you’re buying and selling publicly is a lot of fun. But no one can be right 100% of the time. And Twitter is filled with people who have plenty of time on their hands to accentuate everything you’ve ever said which turned out to be wrong and really go to town on you. That’s just part of the game. Gotta have a sense of humor about it and plenty of humility. It’s also better to own your L’s before anyone else has a chance to ridicule you for them. I’ve been doing this for twelve years, you can take my word for it. The trouble is, Weiss has a great sense of humor so long as the subject we’re laughing at is anyone but himself. And there’s not a lot of humility going on there, if we’re being honest. But that’s the charm of Weiss! It’s why he’s so great for our show and so entertaining to watch. You know who’s most entertained by Stephen Weiss? The people who say they can’t stand him. They don’t even recognize what’s actually happening – he, his whole persona, is producing an emotional response in the viewers and they can’t get enough of him. There’s a great joke in the movie ‘Private Parts’ where Howard Stern’s nemesis at the radio station demands to hear the latest listenernship stats to prove why the shock jock should be taken off the air. It turns out, the people who hate Howard are actually listening twice as much as the fans!

Anyway, Weiss the person is different from Weiss the character on TV (this is true of everyone on TV to some degree, obviously). It’s safe to say that Weiss the Character makes it impossible for Weiss the Person to be on a site like Twitter, where anyone can say anything about you or to you all day long and there’s nothing you can do about it. So deleting is smart.

But he’ll be back. Because the single most triggering thing on earth to Steve is when someone is sharing an opinion that he disagrees with. You should see him when I’m talking about a stock I like that he doesn’t. I swear I think he’s shaking. I have to confess, there’ve been times where I’ve actually calibrated my comments to deliberately rile him up. He takes the bait every time. It’s awesome. Anyway, there’s lot of garbage opinions on Twitter all day and, eventually, my man will come back to correct you all. Especially if Jimmy Lebenthal starts feeling himself. Do me a favor – when Steve returns, be nice! I won’t be there to see it, so I’m trusting you.

***

Dimson, Staunton and Marsh of the London Business School are known for their research into long-term returns in the investment markets. In their 2015 edition of the Credit Suisse Global Investment Returns Yearbook, they found that “Tobacco shares have beat the equity market by an annualized 4.5 percentage points in the U.S. over the past 115 years…British tobacco stocks have beat the market by 2.6 percentage points annually over 85 years.”

Guess which squiggly line below is the return on American tobacco stocks back to 1900:

From the Yearbook:

Figure 2 shows the performance of the 15 US industries for which we have data back to 1900. The red line shows that a dollar invested in the US market at start-1900 would have grown, with dividends reinvested, to USD 38,255 by end 2014, representing an annualized return of 9.6%. The industries display a wide dispersion around this. A dollar invested in the worst performer, shipbuilding and shipping, would have grown to just USD 1,225, representing an annualized return of 6.4%. The best performer, tobacco, gave an annualized return of 14.6%, and a terminal value of USD 6.2 million, over 5,000 times as much as from shipbuilding and shipping.

Addiction is one of the great investment themes and is undefeated over the long-term. It’s why Peloton’s stock is worth almost zero but McDonalds is valued at a quarter of a trillion dollars. You want to bet on that reversing? LOL, read more.

***

There’s this thing that Elon Musk keeps saying about how there needs to be a digital town square where everyone can communicate with everyone else, sharing and debating ideas. It sounds good. I’m not so sure it’s true. We might be better off without everyone talking to everyone. I don’t think humanity is equipped for it. There’s nine verses in the Book of Genesis about the last time we attempted this. The creator shut it down.

Genesis 11:1-9

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as [the descendants of Noah] migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” The LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the LORD said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore it was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

I’m not religious. I don’t even understand why this story was included in the Bible. It’s almost an aside, doesn’t really move the plot forward or anything. Takes place away from the main action and without any of the important characters. It’s like a digression.

But, clearly, someone thought it was important enough to be included.

***

There are four hormones that make us happy. They work differently and are produced from a variety of activities and states of mind:

SEROTONIN

Serotonin stabilizes our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness. Additionally, it helps decrease our worries and concerns and is associated with learning and memory.

Serotonin is naturally triggered by regular things we can do each day – going for a walk in the sunshine, getting a good night’s sleep, spending time in nature or self-care activities that reduce stress levels.

ENDORPHINS

Endorphins are produced by the central nervous system to help us deal with physical pain.  They are released in response to pain or stress, but they’re also released during other activities, like eating, exercise, or sex.

They release a brief euphoria that covers the pain. Athletes frequently speak about an ‘endorphin high’ they get when they push their body to the point of real discomfort or pain.

OXYTOCIN

Oxytocin often called ‘the love hormone’. Extensive research has linked oxytocin release to life satisfaction levels.

It appears to play a larger role in women’s physiology and happiness than men’s.  Oxytocin is mainly correlated with a loving touch and close relationships.

This hormone provides a multiple hit, by stimulating serotonin and dopamine, while lowering anxiety.

DOPAMINE

This hormone drives your brain’s reward chemical.  It is released when you are doing something pleasurable.

This could be eating a great meal, listening to inspiring music, getting a massage, or completing a physical exercise workout. The release of dopamine gives feelings of well-being and motivates you to seek things you enjoy and do well.

 

We like these chemicals so we go to great lengths to earn them. Falling in love requires leaving the house. Exercise requires getting off the couch. Having sex requires treating another human being with decency and respect. These things require effort, time, energy, attention to detail, emotional intelligence.

Or you can just scroll the timeline to get your hit. You can type something into a box that gets other people to applaud you for it. Just type and push enter. So much easier. So much faster. The chemical reaction is the same. It’s a shortcut.

Social media has given us a happy button. Why bother with anything else?

That’s why there’s not going to be any mass exodus or platform renaissance at Twitter. Because in the end, we all get what we want out of it. It does the trick. It’s a cigarette behind the gym between 3rd and 4th period. It’s a quick butt in the car before work. It’s that last drag of the evening, when the wine bottle’s empty and the kids are asleep. You’ll be back for another. It’s only a matter of when not if.



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